Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I Sailed the Starless Sea and Lived to Tell About It

Since time immemorial you and your people have toiled in the shadow of the cyclopean ruins. Of mysterious origins and the source of many a superstition, they have always been considered a secret best left unknown by the folk of your hamlet.
But now something stirs beneath the crumbling blocks. Beastmen howl in the night and your fellow villagers are snatched from their beds. With no heroes to defend you, who will rise to stand against the encircling darkness? The secrets of Chaos are yours to unearth, but at what cost to sanity or soul?
An introductory adventure for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, Sailors on the Starless Sea pits a mob of 0-level adventurers against the legacy of the Chaos Lords and their corrupted hordes. Delving beneath the crumbling ruins, the characters discover ancient crypts, a starless sea, and an ancient ziggurat, where death and treasure await in equal measure!

So goes the pitch of the first 0-level module for the newly released Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. I plan to cover three different things in this post: the character creation process, 0-level play, and the module itself.

As my lone player sat the gaming table throwing together a small horde of peasants it became clear: though the character creation rules may not be for everyone, they are by far the most fun of any system we have played. Let me explain. In most other RPGs, the players have a lot of say during character creation. It's pretty much the opposite in DCC RPG. With the exception of your name, everything is left up to the dice. Stats, equipment, occupation—everything else is rolled randomly.

So why is this fun? To start, it's fast. I've run a few 0-level games at this point, and generating ten characters can happen in as many minutes. This is a good thing, as most of these 0-level peasants are going to die in the first adventure. This method also produces some brilliantly insane character concepts. For example, my player rolled an Elven Sage who was incapable of speaking Elven, could not read or write, and whose only possessions were a quill pen and paper.

GMs and/or players might be tempted to skip this process and begin the game at 1st level. In the introduction to Sailors. . . the author does say this adventure would also be a suitable challenge for some 1st level characters plus a few 0-level hirelings. I would strongly recommend against doing that, especially if this is your first experience with DCC RPG or roleplaying in general. One of the strengths of 0-level play is that it's very light on rules. The amount of time wasted paging through the rulebook is non-existent. This allows you and your players to focus on the stuff that matters: the story and your characters' roles in it.

Aside from the preamble on the back and a table of rumors which your players roll on randomly (of course), little is known about the cyclopean ruins. DCC RPG thrives on the unknown, the alien, the strange. None of the creatures in Sailors are reskinned fantasy cliches. More importantly, due to (what else?) some random tables no two playthroughs of this module are going to be exactly the same.

One thing that surprised me is how many encounters and encounter areas there are for this level of play. Counting each obstacle (puzzle, trap, combat), there are a little over ten in total. The final level of the dungeon has some particularly nasty encounters. Resourceful players will have no trouble surviving these as the dungeon gives the players all the tools they need to persevere. Should players leave some parts of the dungeon unexplored they will find themselves considerably less prepared. Should players lose all of their characters, the dungeon also provides opportunity to find some new recruits.

Sailors on the Starless Sea is the perfect introductory adventure for Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. It's got the right mixture of weirdness to fulfill its promise as the torchbearer of Appendix N fantasy roleplaying and enough charm to woo veterans and newcomers to tabletop gaming alike. It's also a good template for GMs looking to design their own 0-level adventures for this game. If you're still not convinced you should check this out, take one last look at that cover.

Monday, May 28, 2012


This showed up in my mailbox last week but I haven't had time to talk about it until now. For the uninitiated, Crawl! is a fanzine for the newly released Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG by Goodman Games. This is the debut issue and it's release was carefully timed to coincide with the game it's supporting. Those who per-ordered it were surprised with the black-on-black cover, a nod to the limited edition heavy metal version of DCC RPG.

Digest-sized and only 20 pages long, Crawl! is crammed full of odds and ends for both DMs and players. This issue features rules to run Human-only campaigns, Cleric-less parties, alternative skill systems, rules for how to integrate spells from older editions, and a whole new patron for your campaign. Of course, the usefulness of this material is going to vary depending upon your needs, but all of the content is top quality. I particularly like the rules for Cleric-less parties and Van den Danderclanden, a patron who has suffered extensive corruption. It's also got some neat, full page art spreads.

The entirety of this first issue is brought to us courtesy of its publisher, Reverend Dak at Stray Couches Press. He jumped into the beta tests for DCC RPG early and these variants come hot off his gaming group's table. This brings me to the best part: Crawl! takes submissions. Now that you've got your copy of DCC RPG (you do have it, right?) you're probably busy sending hordes of peasants to their death and adapting the game to your needs. Don't toil alone! Share your weird creations with the world and get involved!

Saturday, May 26, 2012


Monthly Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG Campaign

I want to run a monthly Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG campaign at The Compleat Strategist in Midtown, Manhattan. The campaign will be episodic, as opposed to ongoing, with the only constant being your characters. It will revolve primarily around modules, both official and third party.

The first session is scheduled for Saturday, June 2 at noon. We will be running Sailors on the Starless Sea, the first official module for the game. Here is the pitch:

Since time immemorial you and your people have toiled in the shadow of the cyclopean ruins. Of mysterious origins and the source of many a superstition, they have always been considered a secret best left unknown by the folk of your hamlet.

But now something stirs beneath the crumbling blocks. Beastmen howl in the night and your fellow villagers are snatched from their beds. With no heroes to defend you, who will rise to stand against the encircling darkness? The secrets of Chaos are yours to unearth, but at what cost to sanity or soul?

An introductory adventure for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, Sailors on the Starless Sea pits a mob of 0-level adventurers against the legacy of the Chaos Lords and their corrupted hordes. Delving beneath the crumbling ruins, the characters discover ancient crypts, a starless sea, and an ancient ziggurat, where death and treasure await in equal measure!

You can learn more about the game here:

If you are part of the D&D Meetup Group, you can RSVP here:

No prior experience with this system is necessary. Characters will be generated upon arrival.

If you have any questions, email me here: gazrax at gmail dot com

Friday, May 25, 2012

DCC RPG Impressions: Theorycrawl Edition

It seems appropriate to begin this post with the art, as everyone else has done. This tome is bursting at the seams with a wide variety of styles that range from a funny-pages gag strip aesthetic to the kind above. Everyone is going to find something to like and dislike here, and the lack of any unified art direction is just one more thing that distinguishes DCC RPG from other games on the shelf. Just flipping through the book is unusually fun.

Much has also been written about "The Funnel", the process of creating a horde of 0-level peasants, sending them through a dungeon, and building a proper party with the survivors. I'll deal with this more in depth once I've run more games at this level, but for now, I'll let one of my players speak for me. "This is probably one of funnest games I've ever played."

Today, I'm going to deal with the classes and the impressions formed after seeing their finalized version. I have yet to play test them. DCC RPG only has seven classes: Cleric, Thief, Warrior, Wizard, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling. The latter three are analogs to the Warrior, Wizard, and Thief, respectively.

Alignment plays an important role for all classes, if not from a mechanical standpoint, than certainly in regards to your character's concept. For example, Lawful warriors are knights, soldiers, upholder of some kind of order; Chaotic, are brigands who undermine that order. Those who remain Neutral are likely mercenaries or seek only to test their strength. You'll notice there is no mention of Good or Evil; DCC RPG has a simplified three-step alignment axis.

The Cleric is the most obvious example of how alignment influences mechanics. Clerics who attempt to heal others outside of their own alignment (or those who worship opposing Gods) find they must work harder for diminished effects. They risk displeasing their deity in doing so. DCC RPG establishes a much more direct connection between Clerics and their deity than I've seen in other systems. You can actually call on your deity for assistance. Of course, they may be busy, or annoyed with you, or not feel your request is worthy of their attention.

Some people will probably be frustrated by how alignment affects the Thief. The bonuses a Thief gets to certain skills is directly correlated to their alignment. For example, Chaotic Thieves are the best at backstabbing, whereas Neutral Thieves have better odds of successfully casting a spell from a scroll.

I could go either way. I like any system that makes players sacrifice ability in one discipline to excel in another. I can also understand players feeling the distinctions in the book are arbitrary. Should you fall into the latter camp, this is very easy to houserule. You could let players choose sets of elite, average, and below average skills Players could swap the progression within an alignment if a character did something approximating that skill during The Funnel. Each DM will use what makes sense for their group.

Anyone who has ever sat at my table knows my disdain for Fighters in 3.5. Pathfinder only made them marginally better. I've always found other martial classes to be more interesting more useful in those editions. DCC RPG places the Warrior at the top of the ladder in terms of martial usefulness. To start, the Warrior is one of the only classes to threaten a critical hit on anything besides a natural 20 as DCC RPG does not assign individual threat ranges to specific weapons.

The real usefulness of a Warrior is in the Mighty Deeds mechanic. DCC RPG doesn't use feats. All of those cool combat maneuvers that are feat dependent in other editions can be accomplished with a Mighty Deed. Before rolling the dice, the Warrior has to declare what he's attempting and then roll his action die. Warriors in DCC RPG don't get a static attack bonus. They get an action die that modifies all attack and damage rolls in a turn. Should it be 3+, the deed succeeds. While the game codifies some examples of deeds, it encourages players to make them situation specific. For example, using a deed to smash out a basilisks eyes . The possibilities really are endless.

One of my complaints with magic in high fantasy RPGs is that it functions like science and technology. DCC RPG reintroduces the mysterious and often dangerous nature of magic. Gone is the system of Vancian magic; there are no spells per day. Instead, you roll to cast a spell, and you better roll well, lest you gain corruption, or roll on the spell fumble table (trust me, you don't want to do this). Quite honestly, there is too much to cover on Wizards and arcane magic in this post, so I'm going to clip my overview of Wizards here and reserve an in-depth look for another time.

Some people probably groaned to see the race-as-class come back. I did initially as well, but there are some really distinct differences between them and the classes they mirror. For all intents and purposes, the Dwarf is a Warrior. He has access to action dice, mighty deeds, increased threat ranges on weapons. He can also smell gold, even a single coin, and notice unusual stonework. The Elf is more or less a Wizard, but with some racial spell resistances and a much, much longer lifespan.
Of the three race-as-classes, the Halfling is probably the most unique. It is most closely analogous to the Thief, but only has access to two of that classes skills: sneak and hide. Like the Thief, burned luck gets replenished. The Halfling can also burn luck to affect others around him, making him a veritable good luck charm. Though he may not be able to backstab, he can wield two-weapons very competently at first level and scores critical hits on natural roles of 16 on a d16. There is more to this class still, but, without the book in front of me, I will have to leave this as the summary of Halflings.

This is a very long post, and I absolutely glossed over some important things. As I continue to digest the book, I'll fill in those gaps and provide further impressions. As it stands, Goodman Games has given us something both familiar and new, and they deserve all the praise they're getting for DCC RPG.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Gaming Group Implosion

Okay, it's not as bad as the title and above image might imply, but as of this writing, my Burning Wheel campaign is officially over. We only made it one session, which feels like dying in the first room. The good news is that it's an amenable split. One of my players is moving away mid-July, and there just isn't enough time in between now and then to have any of the major beliefs resolved. Life happens often.

So what's next? We regroup, and most likely will be switching to a more episodic campaign using DCC RPG. I've gone through most of the book at this point and will try to have some impressions up by the week's end. I'm really looking forward to the Sailors on the Starless Sea module, which I believe we are on schedule to run this weekend.

Monday, May 21, 2012

D&DN: Hit Points

I'm sure, if you're reading this, you've read the latest on D&DN: Hit dice are back. I missed 4E, so I can't comment on how Healing Surges play, but I have read the books and understand that there is a certain consistency to them that the new model of regaining hit points lacks. Personally, I think the resurgence of hit dice is a good thing. I like randomness in my games. Calculated risks become a little more unpredictable when your character's fate is left up to the roll of the dice. I also understand why people wouldn't like that.

Without treading too close to the arguments from last generation's edition wars, the kind of consistency that a mechanic like Healing Surges represents seems closer to a video game than a tabletop game. This isn't meant to be a slight against that style of game; rather, I only offer that I like each genre of gaming to be discreet experiences.

DCC RPG is Here!

Just got these today. Impressions forthcoming.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Chasing the Dragon

This next sentence could be a complete falsehood: the majority of people who play roleplaying games either find their ideal system or they leave the hobby. It seems true to me, but that doesn't necessarily make it so. In my high school, when I began roleplaying, there was a rather large crowd of people interested in P&P gaming and we played a wide variety of systems: various editions of D&D, Werewolf, Vampire: The Masquerade, Mage, Big Eyes Small Mouth, Shadowrun, etc. I don't live around the area anymore, but, from what I can tell, a lot of those people don't play games anymore. Those who do pretty much play whatever system they have the most books for, or whatever is most nostalgic for them.

Maybe I have some genetic disorder where I'm predisposed to wanting to see what hue of grass is on the other side of the metaphorical fence, but I'm always looking at new systems. I've become pretty good at finding ones that fit particular needs but I've yet to find the one. This is not a quest for perfection; rather, the ideal system for me and my players.

Without getting into semantics, let's define the ideal system as one that serves my purposes best. These change depending on the type of game I want to play. The Burning Wheel game I'm running right now is intensely story driven. There's plenty of action, too, but each fight, due to the nature of the system, means a whole lot more as combat is so lethal. The players have to want to risk death and seem to do so only if it means accomplishing their goals. This is, bar none, the best ruleset I've found for any fantasy game where the focus is going to be on roleplaying. The Duel of Wits rules function like a social combat for negotiating conflict; players write beliefs as part of character creation and are rewarded for testing them in play; the lifepath system creates fully-formed personalities from which to easily build back stories.

It is everything I want for a campaign that will have a narrative focus. Should I want to do a dungeon crawler-style campaign or something flavored closer to high fantasy, it would be a poor choice. It's not that the rules couldn't handle those types of games; it's just not well suited for it. The mantra-like response I get to this idea is that the type of game is determined by the players, not the system. I feel like this is one of those nature/nurture arguments. Both are important, but to say one trumps the other is conjecture.

I've yet to find my ideal system for dungeon crawling campaigns. I've never played 1st or 2nd edition D&D, but 3.X and Pathfinder are definitely not those systems. At low levels, it's hard to see why, but anyone who has taken characters over level 10 can attest to the exercise in tedium that combat becomes and anyone who has DMed high-level is well-aware of the amount of prep work it takes to hold this game together.

I'm holding out for Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, but I am skeptical. Without a doubt, it's going to replace Pathfinder for most of my high-fantasy needs, but I hesitate to say that it will be ideal. I hope I'm wrong.

And there is the other, larger issue at the core of this post: does a RPG system exist which handles RP-intense campaigns and combat-heavy games with equal grace and measure?

Monday, May 14, 2012

When the Dice Don't Mean Enough, or Anything

Only roll the dice to resolve an action once, and only if there is risk of failure.

This sounds like common sense, and it should be. However, if the last 10 years of roleplaying has taught me anything, this idea is seldom put into practice.

I remember a game in the recent past where the DM had us traveling through this tunnel. I can't tell you how many times he had me roll perception, but it was a lot. Granted, this DM was fairly new to the game, but I see this mistake repeated by veterans just as often.

Why is it a mistake? To start, it slows the game down and detracts from the primary reason you've assembled your friends around the gaming table: to have fun. The most important reason is that it trivializes success and increases the risk of failure.

Failure often has disastrous consequences (you don't see the spider hanging from the ceiling, you don't notice the tripwire that springs a trap) but success feels empty. It's often even worse when this back and forth between the players and the DM become bereft of any description.

Why not just have them make a single Perception check to resolve this scene? Or maybe two; one for noticing structural irregularities and another for spotting any wandering monsters? Allow them to re-roll once they've been on the receiving end of a trap or ambush, but make the new result stick, even if it is lower.

The worst examples of this kind of incremental success and disastrous failure I can think of are unopposed checks, like Climb or Acrobatics. Rolling 30 checks to scale a cliff face isn't exciting nor does it make me feel like my character is particularly good at climbing. Why can't one check suffice?

Of course, not all of the blame falls on the DM's shoulders. After failing a check, the first question most players ask is if they can retry. It's the kind of question you need to have a good answer for beyond, "because I said so." Most DMs allow this for things like climbing to be re-rolled. Why? Failing a check can mean much more than just saying, "You were not successful."

Perhaps the cliff face is wet and without the proper gear it will be too slick. No re-rolls until that gear is attained.

Maybe the character was able to ascend X feet but then fell and took damage based on their margin of failure. You could allow a re-roll, but the idea is that this will deter them without considering a different strategy.

Perhaps the path they took leads to a dead end and now they have to approach from another direction.

If re-rolling is always an option, then what's the risk? What's the point of casting the dice to begin with?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Gamescience Dice!

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I got new dice! This was my first experience with Gamescience as well as my first time inking dice by hand. To start, I thought the sprue remains were going to be much worse. I didn't even have to file some of them down. The only ones I found that had consistent problems were the D24s. Both had remnants on multiple faces of the die, which was a little frustrating. The Zocchi dice are also made of a sturdier material than the opaque dice, which made the work take longer.

When I began inking them, I assumed I was trying to color inside the grooves. This does not work. Instead, you have to scratch the crayon back and forth until the number is filled in. Of course, the entire face of the die is going to be covered with the crayon. I found the best method of cleaning them was to take some cardstock and scrape the excess wax off, and then polish it with a rag.

The dice also feel different than other sets I've owned and you really notice it when you roll them. It's hard to explain, but I'm sure everyone who purchases a set will notice this immediately.

Overall, I'm very happy with the purchase. My only complaint is that no Zocchi dice come in opaque colors, as I'm not all that fond of gem dice.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dying in the First Room, Coloring Outside the Lines

Last weekend we were supposed to play the next session of the Burning Wheel Campaign, In Service of the Bastard Lord, but one of our players had to help his +1 move.

Instead, we played Pathfinder, and I actually got to be a player! It was pretty short lived; we died in the first room. I can't remember if that ever happened before, but it was not unexpected. A two-man party without a healer isn't likely to survive too long in a dungeon that the DM described as a challenge for a full party of four.

After that, we broke out my copy of Wiz-War and spent the rest of our game day chucking fireballs at one another and stealing treasure. I actually won this time.

On Tuesday I ran a solo dungeon using the DCC RPG beta rules. The one player rolled ten 0-levels, and named all of them after American political figures, actors and actresses from world cinema, and famous, dead writers. By the end of the crawl, he had two left: Barack Obama, who is now a level 1 Warrior, and Arthur Den, a level 1 Wizard. My copy of the LE rule book is on its way, I believe.

I got my sets of Gamescience dice today. Too bad all of my players are out of town, I've been dying to use them. I thought they were going to take a long time to ink, but the crayon method is super fat and easy. I'll post some pictures of them soon.